One of the earlier articles on this blog that was most fun to write was the blockbuster post Get Rich by….Watching Films. Just like every Hollywood hit needs a sequel to maximise box office and merchandising revenue, The Escape Artist is not above spreading The Butter of Creativity over The Toast of Repetition with a sequel post.
So The Escape Artist is now back again disguised as a film critic armed with earnest prose, tortuous metaphors and psycho-babble to review more Hollywood films that touch on themes related to financial independence.
Relax, put your feet up and lets have a nice cup of tea while we watch some films imbued with potentially life-changing stories. These films illustrate various insights into financial independence, although the links are not always obvious at first glance. Keep an open mind…and enjoy!
When The Matrix first set out its stall in 1999 with computer gaming, guns and a female lead in black leather, I dismissed it as sci-fi fodder for teenage boys. But back then I didn’t really know about financial independence, for which The Matrix is an almost perfect metaphor.
This film is essential viewing for potential escapees. Keanu Reeves plays the software engineer / hacker offered the choice to see the world how it really is rather than how The Man (aka The Matrix) wants us to see it. Reeves chooses to take the red pill and a new reality that he never saw as a consumer sucker is revealed to him. Reeves finds a tribe of fellow adventurers fighting The Mantrix and from then on the self-help metaphors come thick and fast (Why do my eyes hurt? Because you are using them for the first time…etc etc).
The first rule of Fight Club is that you never talk about Fight Club. But The Escape Artist knows when to break the rules…so lets talk about Fight Club! The film is based on the premise that many men feel there is something missing from their lives. They’re like caged animals trapped in a consumerist zoo decked out with soft furnishings from Ikea.
We can all agree that the removal of (most) violence from modern life is a triumph of human decency over our past. But somewhere along the way, men lost some of their evolutionary raison d’etre as defenders of their tribe. We still need some risk, challenge and adventure to feel fully alive. Lets be clear, The Escape Artist is not advocating fist fights with insurance clerks….not with my cheekbones. The fights are a metaphor for the discomfort involved in change and the reward for over-coming fear is freedom.
The Jungle Book
This film includes one of the all-time classic anthems of financial independence (The Bear Necessities)…but there’s more to it than that. It takes a village to raise a child and this film can be interpreted as being about how to raise happy, confident children in a world that can be dangerous. After all, it is a jungle out there.
Mowgli is the child raised by a wolf pack who needs to be returned to his own people. Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear (B&B) make great guardians and understand that Mowgli needs to be actively taught self-sufficiency, independence and resilience whilst under their protection. They teach Mowgli to fish (metaphorically) rather than doling out salmon canapés. At the end, B&B realise the time has come to let Mowgli go and make his own way in the world. They do not keep working a cubicle in order to fund Mowgli’s second degree or his first flat in London.
A Good Year
This film is based loosely on Peter Mayle’s book A Year in Provence, the book beloved of English middle class people determined to live an idealised version of an authentic Mediterranean lifestyle. Although lets face it, most aren’t quite determined enough to move out of [insert name of commuter town here] with its fast rail line into London and good schools.
The book is shamelessly sexed up by Hollywood and Crowe plays a one dimensional alpha male who has become cynical and money obsessed swimming with sharks whilst working in the City. Crowe takes a year off in France and re-learns how to live simply. He starts to feel again and then to heal, aided by the love of a good woman. Bless!
The War of the Roses
Michael Douglas plays a young man who climbs the ladder of the legal profession. Along the way he transforms from a fun, kind young man into a Walking Wallet. Having married for love, Douglas becomes a status seeking workaholic.
Things go downhill when he encourages his wife to stay at home as a trophy wife, spending their money on chandeliers and other shit to fill their “perfect” suburban home. Turner plays a blinder as the passive-aggressive wife who comes to hate Douglas for trapping her like a bird of paradise in a gilded cage. Along the way, Douglas demonstrates some interesting recipe tips involving dogs, fish and homemade flavourings.
This film is like watching a long, slow motion piece of footage of a car crash. Watch and groan as a likable young couple’s relationship turns to shit as they unintentionally follow the path mapped out for them by the forces of consumerism and suburban peer pressure.
We first meet the couple living a happy and bohemian carefree existence in Manhattan. De Caprio gets a job working for a company that looks like IBM. A move to the Connecticut suburbs immerses the young couple in a narrow minded and stultifying world. Note to self: Choose your surroundings carefully. The pressures of paying for the “dream” house, the job, long commute and the drinking take a toll on the marriage and things don’t end well. Apart from all that though, its a blast!
The Remains of the Day
Imagine a Prison Camp that looked like an English country house where the only barbed wire fences are metaphorical: social convention and self-imposed limiting beliefs. Anthony Hopkins plays Stevens the butler in a Downton style country house where the years roll by relentlessly and nothing happens.
Stevens plays his bit part in the social hierarchy dutifully, supressing his inner spirit until it is eventually crushed under the weight of routine and social obligation. He shows unswerving misplaced loyalty to his employer Lord Darlington who has questionable morals and doesn’t give a shit about him. If you think there’s no risk in one more year syndrome (OMYS) then this film hauntingly shows otherwise. At the end of the film, Stevens starts to realise his caution has cost him love and happiness and that he may have wasted his life. Oooops!
Limitless is built around a thought experiment: What if anything was possible? What would we do, how would we change and improve our lives? This film is a self help classic: we see its hero starting small by tidying up his apartment but then keep pushing on all the way to the top.
Its important not to take this one too literally. In this film the catalyst for the improvement is an addictive drug. Now The Escape Artist is not suggesting that we dope our way to success and happiness. But for me this film portrayed the magic of thinking big and the buzz I got when I realised that FI and total freedom were really possible.
Pay It Forward
Whenever anyone emails me saying that they like the blog and its helped them, I always tell them to pay it forward; a reference to this film. There is an old Chinese proverb that if you return a favour, you cancel it out. Better to pay it forward and do a good deed for someone else. Better still, do a good deed for 3 new people. If those 3 new people pay it forward, that’s 9 good deeds to nine new people and pretty soon the whole world is a better place.
The pay-it-forward principle is the foundation for the FI blog scene which reminds me of a benign pyramid scheme where bloggers pass on to others the ideas that have worked for them.
There is now plenty of scientific evidence on happiness…but the findings are very different to what the advertising and marketing industries want us to believe so we don’t hear much about this. Those industries don’t want us to be happy. They like us tired, stressed and despondent so we feel in need of a treat or some retail therapy. Fuck them and the horse they rode in on.
Its impossible to watch this film and not feel uplifted and optimistic about the possibilities for human happiness just by making simple changes in our lives. Its free to watch on Netflix.
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